‘I Don’t Know What I’m Doing When I Graduate’ – Why That is Okay

I’m a third year Law Student, and I don’t know where I’m going after I graduate.

And that’s okay.

While at University, everyone is always asking you about the future. And we’ve been at this for years. GCSEs – where are you going next; A-Levels – what university do you want to go to, what course do you want to study? Are you going to get a job? What’s next? And it seems like almost everyone has an answer. But do they really?

The psychological belief that everyone has their life together after university is a toxic one. Why? Because that’s what is expected of us. Realising that everyone doesn’t have their life together has benefitted me and my mental state greatly, and here is why.

Doing a law degree, I am no stranger to the internal competition; and have spent time watching as my peers seemingly secure work experience and training contracts while I am still not quite there. In a career like law, it is very much drilled into you that you have to achieve things instantly; high grades; getting a training contract; getting work as a paralegal – but even though it seems like your LinkedIn is filled with people’s successes, there are still a large majority of you who haven’t quite found your next steps. Being in my third year and talking more open and honestly with my course mates, I began to realise that even those who started the degree with a clear plan and career goal, have stumbled at several hurdles, and are struggling to get to where they visioned themselves to be. Some people have found that the decisions they made about their careers, while it seemed right at the time, are now not where they want their career to end up. It’s telling that law students who were so set on a career in the subject when they arrived at University are now looking at other directions, and that I hated it last year, but love it and want to pursue it this year.

I think it’s important, especially since Covid, to remember that things do not have to be rushed. Someone may have rushed into a job because at that time, that’s what they wanted; but been forced to be locked in their bedroom, hunched over a computer, doing that job, and realised it wasn’t for them. Someone may have had a graduate job from the second year of their degree lined up, however that company could have ended up going under or downsizing, and no longer offering that role, by the time they get there. It’s important to remember that not rushing and taking your time to make decisions, is okay, as why should you be forced to make decisions about your future before you’ve had time to enjoy the present? Why do we spend our whole lives looking ahead? If when someone asks you the ‘What are you doing after you graduate?’ question, and you have no idea, shrug those shoulders with pride! Say that you are unsure, tell them that you’re going where life takes you – and remember that they are probably doing the same thing. I had a friend of mine message me the other day asking, “Bobbie, did you have a plan at the start of doing your degree, and has that plan suddenly changed?” And I replied simply with “Yes.” At the start of my Law degree, I wanted to work in Human Rights or Criminal Law, but I decided both of those were areas of law I would struggle to switch off from; get too emotionally invested in; and something I did not want to do after my degree. I was very set on being a barrister when I arrived, but prefer the idea of a Solicitor. My eighteen year old self and my twenty one year old self view things very differently. And that’s okay.

Opening myself up to the idea that it was okay to not have a graduate job or training contract lined up was beneficial, as it meant I was actually more open to receiving opportunities in my present life, and more focused on the here and now. I found that focusing less on where I’ll be in five months and more on where I am now ensures I spend more time on my degree, with my friends and peers, and making memories. It has made me more positive, and excited, for life beyond graduation, because it’s waiting for me to make when I get there, rather than looming over me right now.  When writing this article, I was reminded of Eve Cornwell; a law graduate from the University of Bristol; who procured a training contract in her second year from one of the top UK law firms, Linklaters, and was probably the envy of her peers, and well, of her thousands of YouTube subscribers; Law students and non-law students alike, as she had a plan and clear career ahead of her post-graduation. She recently quit this job, and now works as a Product Manager at a Legal tech company. Eve’s motivations and things she wanted from her career, changed during lockdown; and she decided to make the switch. And that is okay. I have some idea where I want to go, and some idea where I want to end up, but I am sure it will change, but that’s allowed.

Because let’s be honest, we are all changing, and the things that made us happy and motivated us three years ago may not be the same as the ones now. And that is natural. If you have a job lined up after graduation, but get there and think, “This isn’t for me.” Then that’s okay. If you love it, that is okay. If you’re still unsure where you’re headed and are going with the flow – that’s okay too – because we are all changing, and I strongly believe that in order to have a career you enjoy, you need the time to shape it, and the drive to change it, so you are happy.

Whatever lies beyond third year for you, is up to you, whenever you want to decide.

Shrug your shoulders with pride.